Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Let us pray for the lapsed, p. 310.
The passage that follows seems to be a quotation from the common prayers then in use. Out of these "bidding prayers" grew the ancient litanies; the deacon dictating the suffrage, and the people responding with the petition, "Lord, have mercy upon them," or the like.By arranging the petitions thus,-we shall see how such prayers were formulated, and how the people, by responding Amen to each suffrage, gave their common supplications accordingly. These suffrages might be enlarged indefinitely, as divers subjects for prayer were presented; and so there was a mingling of what has been called "free prayer" with the liturgical system, without confusion or lack of harmony.
The honour of our colleague, p. 319.
Thus Cyprian speaks of the Bishop of Rome, whose due ordination and rightful jurisdiction Novatian was impugning. The absurdity of calling this heretic Novatian an anti-pope involves a great confusion of ideas, however. For, as Cornelius was no more a pope than Cyprian (to both of whom the title was freely conceded in its primitive sense16 , how can it be proper to give Novatian a name which implies a mediaeval sense, and leads the student to infer that his claim was not merely to the See of Rome,17 but to a universal bishopric over all Christians? It is needless to say, that, had the churches so understood the case, the whole Christian world would have been convulsed by a matter which, in point of fact, was soon settled by Cyprian's enforcement of the canons. See subsequent letters.
(Novatian, pp. 319, 324.)
The similarity of the names of Novatus and Novatian, and their complicity in a common schism, led to great confusions among their contemporaries, which have not been wholly cleared even to this day. See Lardner's elaborate argument against the latter name as a mere blunder. He calls Novatian also Novatus, and gives his forcible reasons.
Observe that "ordination" is the term here used for conferring the order of bishops on a presbyter. So always anciently, though now it is customary to speak only of the "consecration" of a bishop. This is the inferior term; for the bishop is supposed to be "consecrated" to his specialty or diocese, while he is raised by "ordination" to the order in which all bishops are equal. Mirabeau says, "Words are things." I quote from a political source the following remarks of a shrewd observer of Mirabeau's principle. Speaking of American phraseology in constitutional affairs, he says, "It is true that this is a mere matter of words or phrases, but words and phrases misused have a very potent influence for confusing the minds of men as to real things. In politics, as in theology, it is best to stick to the text, and to avoid supposedly equivalent phrases. Such phrases often contain within them the seeds of heresy and schism." Now, it was the policy of the schoolmen to confuse terms, in order to break down the Cyprianic theory; and they denied that bishops were ordained to a "Holy Order." Theirs was only a name of office; and their order was only an ecclesiastical order, as much so as "sacristans."18 This to, keep them from Cyprian's claim of equality with the Bishop of Rome. But this was debatable school doctrine only, till the Council of Trent. Since that, it has been dogma in the Roman communion. Contrast, therefore, the Greek and (modern) Roman dogmas:-
1. Greek.19 "The three orders, by divine institution, are, (1) the episcopate, (2) the priesthood, (3) the diaconate."
2. Roman.20 "According to the uniform tradition21 of the Catholic Church, the number of these orders is seven; and they are called (1) porter, (2) reader, (3) exorcist, (4) acolyte, (5) sub-deacon, (6) deacon, (7) priest." The "bishop," then, is only a priest, who acts as vicar for the one "Universal Bishop" at Rome. For the Greek theory, note Cyprian passim.
Cornelius, our colleague, p. 328.
Observe the state of the case. "Lest perchance the number of bishops in Africa should seem unsatisfactory," etc., he wrote to his colleague in Rome, who gathered a council also, "with very many bishops." Imagine such language, and such action in any case, between the French metropolitan and the present Bishop of Rome! The contrast illustrates the absolute nonentity, in the Cyprianic age, of any conception of such relations as now exist between Rome and her vassal episcopate. "Prostrate at the feet of your Holiness," etc.: the noblest bishops and the boldest at the Vatican Council thus signed their feeble and abject remonstrances. Among their names are Schwarzenberg, Furstenberg, and even Strossmayer.22
One episcopate diffused, p. 333.
Here is the principle expounded in the Treatise on Unity. He states it tersely as follows:-
"Episcopatus unus, episcoporum multorum concordi numerositate diffusus."
And he then states in few words his theory of the "compact unity of the Catholic Church," in which the existence of the "provinces" is recognised, and an "ecclesiastical structure; "but not a hint of what must have been laid down as the test and primal law of truth and unity, had any infallible supremacy been imagined to exist. In that case, no need of a treatise, no need of words: he would have said nothing of "co-bishops," but simply of communion with the Bishop of Rome.
Fabian and Donatus, also our predecessors, p. 342.
Here the Paris editors of a.d. 1574 take pains to remind us that Cyprian means "Fabian, your predecessor, and Donatus, mine." Very well. But the implication is that "our predecessors" were persons of the same office and dignity. Let us suppose the present Bishop of Alger writing to Leo XIII. in the same manner, as follows: "Bishop Strossmayer was severely remarked upon by Plus and Martial, our predecessors, in their letters." Would this be tolerated? The editor of this series answered the invitation of Pius IX. to his council in 1869, after the manner of a contemporary of Cyprian,23 in order to make the contrast between the third century and the nineteenth palpable to the venerable pontiff and his adviser Antonelli. It was resented with animosity by the Ultramontane journals, on the ground that nobody on earth should address the pontiff as bishop to bishop, or as man to man.
To whom perfidy could have no access, p. 344.
When we put a man in mind of his self-respect, we imply that he is in peril of forgetting the quality we impute to him. "You are a gentleman, and, of course, cannot deceive me: "such language is not complimentary, but involves a gentle reproof. So here our author has to remind the Roman clergy of what is due to themselves if they would keep up the credit assigned to them by St. Paul, but from which, as the apostle himself warned them, they were in danger of falling. Cyprian goes on to remind them of what they owe to Carthage and its synods, and warns them against "abandoned men" seeking to discredit the African bishops.24 The Roman clergy had already confessed their sense of what was due to Carthage,25 and in another epistle,26 doubtless remembering Zephyrinus and Callistus, they confess their degeneracy, and the ignominy of their actual position as compared with that which the apostle had praised. The passage is often quoted as if it read, "to whom corrupt faith can have no access: "but the word is perfidia, and has reference, not to faith, but morals; and, to avoid ambiguity, I have put the word "perfidy" into the translation, where the Edinburgh translator has "faithlessness."
Here note (p. 346, note 2) the reference to St. Paul's term (katatomh ), the concision, where the Oxford note (p. 170, Oxford trans.) is to the point. Only let it be more clearly stated, that St. Path calls the Judaizing schismatics the katatomh ; meaning that, instead of the circumcised body, they are but the particula proeputii cut off and cast away. Our author uses it here with great effect, therefore. In another place27 St. Paul carries his scornful anathema farther, with a witty reference to a heathen example; on which see Canon Farrar in his St. Paul, cap. xxii. (Agdistis) p. 235, ed. New York. The "sport with children," in the Canon's note (p. 227), seems to me illustrated by Exodus 4:24. Trifling with children, i.e., their salvation.
I both warn and ask you, p. 346, note 4.
The original is, "admoneo et peto; "the language of an equal, but yet of an older brother in the episcopate. Here some other points are worthy to be noted in this important letter, and they shall be briefly taken in serie.
1. We here encounter the tangled knot of the triple schisms, in which the unhappy Felicissimus, with Novatus and Novatian, has long presented a scandal to criticism. Thus, our author speaks of Felicissimus as "schismatis et disidii auctor; "and difficulties have been raised about the meaning of the text, because Novatus would rather seem entitled to that "bad eminence." I think all difficulty disappears if we drop the idea that a particular schism is here referred to, and understand merely that this bad man was "the beginner of schism and dissension," out of which the three specific schisms had cropped. Go back to Epistles xxxvii. (p. 315) and xxxviii. (p. 316) and xxxix. (p. 316) for his antecedents. The "faction of Felicissimus" (sec. 2), and of "five presbyters" with him (sec. 3), is here sufficiently evident to illustrate the point now under consideration. In Epistle xlviii. (p. 325) we find Novatus, it is true, accused as "the first sower of discord and sedition," but in another sense, because Felicissimus was a mere layman. Novatus took him up, and had him unlawfully ordained a deacon; and now Felicissimus becomes a mere appendage, and Novatus becomes formidable. Sailing to Italy, and coming to Rome just in time to inspire the discontent of Novatian with a wicked ambition, he next proceeds to engineer his schismatical ordination to the bishopric of Rome by the hands of three bishops, acting uncanonically and sinfully. So now Novatian becomes the chief character as rival to Cornelius, and pretender to his See; while Novatus returns to Africa to foment new disturbances, but is justly excommunicated, and disappears from history.
2. In this epistle it would seem that Cornelius had vacillated weakly, and was in peril of acting uncanonically. Cyprian gently admonishes him (sec. 2): "I was considerably surprised," etc.; also (sec. 6), "I speak to you as being provoked, as grieving, as constrained," etc.
3. Here Fortunatus appears on the scene, to embroil the matter yet more seriously; of whom (sec. 9) enough appears in this letter.
4. Fortunatus, with his wicked allies, sails to Rome (sec. 11) as the nearest apostolic See, hence spoken of (sec. 14) as the chief church (i.e., of the West) and the matrix of unity (i.e., to the daughter churches of Africa). Let us read into the pages of Cyprian no Decretalist ideas when he modestly acknowledges the comparative inferiority of his place. Let us find his meaning in this very letter, and others, in which his words contradict all ideas of any official inferiority. Take also the ideas of the epoch for illustration. Recur to Cyprian's master expounding the relations of the primitive churches, one to another, in his Prescription. Tertullian points out a root-principle in all apostolic Sees;28 and then, after elaborate discussion, he thus applies it practically:-
"Run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles," etc. "Achaia, e.g., is proximate to you; then there is Corinth. If you are near Macedonia, there is Philippi.... Crossing to Asia, you get Ephesus.... Close to Italy you have Rome, from which comes to us (in Africa) our authority," etc. I abridge, but do not alter the sense.29 Here, then, we find what Cyprian was writing about. The schismatics, on this principle, had rushed to the nearest apostolic See, viz., that of the Imperial City. Cyprian recognises his claims on its bishop; Rome being the source of his own ordination, and the matrix of the Carthaginian church. This animates him with a loving humility. But what next? Having expressed all this, he proceeds, as an equal but an elder brother, to assert his rights, and to admonish Cornelius that he, too, must obey the ecclesiastical discipline. Nobody, even among the Greeks, would object to such a Roman primacy, even at this day; but "to give place by subjection, even for an hour," is what St. Cyprian would not endure any more than St. Paul.30 "Supremacy" is another thing.
5. The grounds of his conduct in this and other acts are unfolded in his Treatise on Unity. But here is the place to show what Cyprian had in his mind as the a !rxai=a e !qh. A canon31 of the African church, after providing for local appeals, reads as follows: "Let them not appeal to tribunals beyond the seas, but to the primates of their own provinces, or to a general council, as hath been often ordained with respect to bishops. But whoso shall persevere in appealing to tribunals beyond seas, let them be received to communion by no one in Africa." And here note that the plural is used, illustrating the above quotation from Tertullian. All the apostolic Sees are treated alike, as "tribunals beyond seas." Note, also, that if any one of these tribunals should receive and hear the appellant, its decisions were of no force in Africa.
6. And, still further, let it be noted that the greatness of Rome, as the capital, was its only ground, even to a canonical primacy afterwards conceded to it for the sake of order. The Council of Chalcedon (Fourth Oecumenical, a.d. 451) states the case, and sets the historical fact beyond dispute, as follows: "The Fathers rightly granted the seniority (a0podedw/kasi ta presbei=a), because that city was the capital, to the throne of the elder Rome, ... and equal precedency (ta issa presbei=a) to the most holy throne of New Rome (Constantinople); justly judging that the city which is dignified with the sovereignty and the senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the elder imperial Rome, should likewise be magnified with the other in ecclesiastical affairs, and rank second after that See." Second as to order, that is; but equal as to this presbeia.
Cyprian's theory shows why they said nothing of its apostolic dignity; viz. because in that respect all apostolic Sees were equal, and all older than Rome, and because all other churches in communion with these centres were practically apostolic, and each was a See of Peter. For, as Cyprian expounds it, there is but one episcopate; and each bishop, locally, possesses the whole of it. It was given first to Peter to make this principle emphatic; i.e., it is a gift held whole and entire by each holder. Then he gave the same to all the apostles, that each one of them might comprehend that what St. Peter had, he had: it was an undivided and indivisible authority. "Each particular church," says the Oxford translator, "being the miniature of the whole, each bishop the representative of Christ, the Chief Bishop; so that, all bishops being, in their several stations, one and the same (as representing the Same), there was, as it were, but one bishop." Such was Cyprian's exposition of the a0rxaia e !qh: I am not so forgetful as to introduce anything of my own. But here it is to be noted that the theory of the Decretals was subversive of all this: there was but one, personally, the representative of Christ, His32 Vicar; and his See, by divine warrant, was supreme. Hence others, called bishops, were not such, as being equals with the Bishop of Rome in the episcopal order, for their "order" was only that of presbyters; and they were called "bishops" only as vicars of the one Bishop at Rome, empowered to act for him in local stations, but having no real episcopate in themselves. Now, Calvin's memorable sentence was based on this difference between the primitive bishops and those of his day. With his strong logic he argued: if, then, bishops are but shadows of a papacy which we have proved fabulous, bishops must be rejected as part of the papacy. But, he said, "Talem nobis hierarchiam si exhibeant, in qua sic emineant episcopi ut Christo subesse non recusent, et ab illo, tanquam unico capite, pendeant et ad ipsum referantur; in qua, sic inter se fraternam societatem colant ut non alio nodo, quam ejus veritate sint colligati; rum veto nullo non anathemate dignos fatear, si qui erunt, qui non eam reverenter, summaque obedientia, observent."
It would seem, therefore, that Calvin drew a correct distinction between the Cyprianic theory and that of the Decretists. "A Christo, unico capite, pendeant," touches the point of the Western schism, which altered this principle into "A pontifice Romano, unico capite," prorsus pendeant omnes praesules Catholici.
The bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, p. 371.
Concerning the election of bishops, and the part of the laity therein, enough has been already said to elucidate this important historical point.33 But here is the place to elucidate Cyprian's relations to Ignatius, by pointing out his theory as to "bishops, presbyters, and deacons." The inquiry is, not whether his theory was right or wrong; but the ante-Nicene Constitutions and Canons cannot be understood without a clear comprehension of it, and it is practically important in the coming collisions with the alien religion now lifting its head aggressively amongst us. To refute its pretensions, Cyprian and Hippolytus are sufficient if cleared from all ambiguities thrown back into their expressions from the mediaeval corruption of primitive words, idioms, and modes of thought.
As to presbyters and deacons, then, we must refer to pp. 306, 366, 370; sub-deacons are mentioned pp. 301 and 306, with lectors under "teaching-presbyters," as preparing for the clerical office. On p. 306 an acolyte is mentioned. Now, these readers, sub-deacons, and acolytes (a0ko/louqoj) are all of a class,-persons preparing for Holy Orders, and after a time known as in "ecclesiastical" or minor orders.34 The lectors need not be explained. The sub-deacons are a class not heard of till this third century, even in the West. Cyprian and Cornelius are the first to mention them. In the East, sub-deacons and acolytes first appear in the fourth century; they were sub-ministrants and attendants on the clergy, and doubtless had charge of the very trouble some work of preparing the candidates for immersion, and the waters for that sacrament, besides cleansing the fonts, and superintending the changes of raiment made necessary. Their offices in time of divine service, attending upon the altar, taking the offerings, seating the congregation, watching the children, etc., may be supposed. Apart from the names, just such offices, like those of sextons, are required in all public worship. The Moravians have acolyths, to this day.
Cornelius ... a peaceable and righteous priest, etc., p. 371.
Now observe his parting tribute in these words, "Cornelius, our colleague, a peaceable and righteous priest, and moreover honoured by the condescension of the Lord with martyrdom, has long ago decreed, with us and with all the bishops appointed throughout the whole world," etc. A colleague, sharing in the decrees of his co-bishops throughout the whole world, is the recognised position of this successor of St. Peter. And Cyprian, who firmly believes that St. Peter, as "a source and principle of unity," had the personal honour of being the first foundation-stone laid on the Corner-Stone Himself, sees nothing in that to make Cornelius the foundation; nor did Cornelius himself. No, nor St. Peter either, who says (1 Peter 2:5) all Christians may become Peters by being laid on the Living Stone, Christ Jesus.
Thus we are prepared to read the Treatise on Unity. We may also concede to the bishops of Rome, even now, that as soon as they claim no more than Cornelius and St. Peter himself did, their primary will no longer be a stumbling-block and a schism to the Christian universe.
In parting with Cornelius, it is useful to note that he represents his diocese in his day35 as numbering "forty-six presbyters, seven deacons and the same number of sub-deacons, with forty-two acolytes and exorcists, readers and sacristans in all fifty-two." More than "fifteen hundred widows and sufferers" dependent on this comparatively small and poor church show the terrible ravages made by persecution.
Epistle LXXI. ... To Stephen their brother, p. 378.
We now reach a very different character from that of his predecessor; and in him we encounter the germinant spirit which, in long after-ages, was able to overcome the discipline of the Church.36 At this time, and during the great synodical period, these personal caprices were made light of: the canons and constitutions of the Church were strong enough to check them; and such was the predominance of the Eastern mind, for many generations, that the ship of the Church was not thrown out of trim. Let us carefully note this historical point, however, and the spirit in which our great author exposes the elements of error.
In the name of, etc. Since Three are One, pp. 380, 382.
Having elsewhere touched upon the quotation attributed to Tertullian,37 I need not repeat what has been said of this once very painfully agitated matter. But, as to the quotations of the African Fathers generally, it ought to be understood that there was a vetus Itala before Jerome,-more than one, no doubt,-to which that Father was largely indebted for the text now called the Vulgate. Vercellone assured Dean Burgon that there was indeed one established Latin text,38 an old Itala.
Scrivener39 says candidly, "It is hard to believe that 1 John 5:7 was not cited by Cyprian; "and again, "The African writers Vigilius of Thapsus (at the end of the fifth century) and Fulgentius (circa 520) in two places expressly appeal to the three heavenly Witnesses." So, too, Victor Vitensis, in the notable case of the African king of the Vandals. The admission of Tischendorf is also cited by Scrivener. Tischendorf says, "Gravissimus est Cyprianus (in Tract. de Eccles. Unitate), Dicit Dominus, Ego et Pater unum sumus (Joann. x. 30); et, iterum, de Patre, Filio, et Spiritu Sancto, scripture est, Et tres unum sunt." Tischendorf adds the testimony of this epistle to Jubaianus. And Scrivener decides that "it is surely safer and more candid to admit that Cyprian read it in his copies, than to resort to," etc., the usual explainings away. To this note of this same erudite scholar the reader may also turn for satisfaction as to the reasons against authenticity. But primarily, to meet questions as to versions used by Cyprian, let him consult the same invaluable work (p. 269) on the Old Latin before Jerome. I have added an important consideration in a note to the Anonymous Treatise on Baptism, which follows (infra), with other documents, in our Appendix.40
Return to our Lord and Origin, p. 389.
Here is an appeal to the a0rxai=a e !qh, that explains other references to "the Root and Origin," which he here identifies with our Lord,41 and "the evangelical and apostolic tradition." This was the understanding at Nicaea: "ut si in aliquo nutaverit et vacillaverit veritas, ad originem dominicam et evangelicam et apostolicam traditionem revertamur." Is not this the grand catholicon for the disorders of modern Christendom? "Nam consuetudo, sine veritate, vetustas erroris est," says Cyprian in this very Epistle.42 And, "If we return to the head and source of divine tradition, human error ceases."
Firmilianus to Cyprian, p. 390.
The contest with Stephen, bishop of Rome, will require no great amount of annotation here, chiefly because the matter has no practical bearings, except as it incidentally proves what was the relation of Stephen to other bishops and to the Catholic Church. In this letter (sec. 6) Firmilian accuses Stephen of "daring to make a departure from the peace and unity of the Catholic Church." And (in sec. 16), further, he sets forth, for the Easterns, the same theory of unity which Cyprian had expounded for the West; viz., the unity of the episcopate. He interprets the parallel texts (Matthew 16:19 and John 20:22, 23) of bestowal in the same manner. His idea is, that, had the latter bestowal been the only one, the apostles might have felt that each had only a share in the same respectively; while, as it stands, there is one episcopate only: in effect, only "one bishop; "each apostle and every bishop, by "vicarious ordination," holding for his flock in his own See all that Christ gave to Peter himself, save only the personal privilege of a leader in opening the door to the Gentiles,43 and in teaching the apostles the full meaning of the gift. The point here is not whether this was the true meaning of our Lord: it is merely that such was the understanding of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.44
Further (sec. 17), he complains of Stephen for his folly in assuming that he had received some superior privileges as the successor of Peter; also censures him for "betraying and deserting unity." So (in sec. 25) he reflects on Stephen for "disagreeing with so many bishops throughout the world ... with the Eastern churches and with the South." He adds, "with such a man, can there he one spirit and one body? "
Firmilian was of Cappadocia, and a disciple of Origen. The interest of his letter turns upon its entire innocence of any conception that Stephen has a right to dictate; and, while it shows a dangerous tendency in the latter personally to take airs upon himself as succeeding the primate of the apostolic college, it proves not less that the Church was aware of no ground for it, but held all bishops equally responsible for unity by communion with their brethren. To make them thus responsible to him and his See had probably not even entered Stephen's head. He was rash and capricious in his resort to measures by which every bishop felt bound to separate himself from complicity with open heretics, and he seems to have had local usage on his side. But how admirable the contrasted forbearance of Cyprian, whose views were equally strong, but who protested against all coercive measures against others.
Clinics, p. 401.
Cyprian's moderation is conspicuous in his views of clinic baptism; for, though Novatian knew none other, he forbore to urge this irregularity against him. Even the good Cornelius was not so forbearing.45 St. Cyprian seems to be the earliest apologist for sprinkling. See Wall, Reflections on Baptism of Infants (Wall's Works), vol. iii. p. 219, for a refutation of Tertullian's supposed admission of "a little sprinkling."46 And see Beveridge on Trine Immersion, Works, vol. xii. p. 86; also Canon L., Apostolical Canons.
Senators and men of importance and Roman knights, p. 408.
1 Corinthians 1:26. We have already seen tokens of the gradual enlightenment of the higher classes in the empire; "the palace, senate, forum," are mentioned by Tertullian.47 The fiercer persecutions seem now to be stimulated by this very fact, and a fear lest Christianity should spread too freely among patricians must have prompted this decree.
The Lord ... speaks in that hour, p. 409.
The saying of Christ (Matthew 10:10; Mark 13:11), "It is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost," was literally accepted, and acted upon. Is it marvellous that it inspired believing men to be martyrs, or that martyrs were so much venerated? And ought not the same texts to be more faithfully accepted in explaining the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures? Language could hardly be stronger: "It is not ye that speak." So we reach the close of this holy and heroic life of the great, the fervid, the intrepid, but, withal, the gentle and generous Cyprian. And in these last words we see the spirit of the man cropping out in his proposal to "arrange in common" with the clergy and people what should be observed, as requisite for the diocese after his decease, according to "the instruction of the Lord." Qui facit voluntatem Dei manet in Aeternum. 1 John 2:17.
Next: The Treatises of Cyprian
Like & share St-Takla.org
© Saint Takla Haymanout Website: Coptic Orthodox Church - Alexandria, Egypt / URL: https://st-takla.org / Contact us at